What ten days in Auckland taught me about business, the city, and myself

Walking down Queen Street in the pouring rain, past fast food joints, clothing boutiques, and faceless bank buildings, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re on George Street. By virtue of being a city by the sea, Auckland is strikingly similar to Sydney. The harbour (and bridge) are north. The Domain is east. The ‘burbs are South. The hipsters are west. Commuters complain about how far the North Shore is, and how expensive the city is getting.

Flying in from global HQ in Sydney, I had ten days to assemble a team of dedicated volunteers who could run their own events, find local partners, and continue making doing good a daily habit in Auckland. It also presented a perfect opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs already doing awesome work in social good and tech in the city.

Building relationships, designing teams, empathising with local volunteers, and running events. I knew how to do maybe one of those things. The next ten days would challenge me at every turn, but to grow, you need a growth mindset.

I don’t intend to bore you with a travelogue of my time in Auckland, but I do intend to share what I learned from a ten day crash course in Directorship. Whether you’re looking to expand your network, visiting Auckland for the first time, trying to build new skills, or anything in between, I guarantee there’s something here you can put to good use.

THERE ARE HEAPS OF TASTY PLACES TO EAT IN AUCKLAND

Laaaawwwwd have mercy, Auckland has some fine places to eat. For breakfast, you can’t go wrong with a bagel from Best Ugly’s, where you can watch them make the dough, and bake it before your very eyes. If you’re after something more substantial, check out The Botanist; part florist, part café, all delicious freshness. Remedy Coffee is also a winner, with more comic books than you can poke a stick at, a free to play arcade machine, and a cosy nook by the window to watch the world go by.

My top pick for lunch would have to be Mister’s (AKA vegan paradise), with their selection of bowls from around the globe (I recommend the Mexican with tofu). They’re also open for breakfast, and accommodate GF, vegan, and raw diets. If you’re looking for something less “exposed brick” and more “farmhouse chic”, The Scarecrow is for you; they’re open for every tantalising meal of the day.

EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I KNEW ABOUT MEETINGS WAS A LIE

In Auckland, I was in a unique position; I had no idea how to go about meeting with someone who I wasn’t trying to convert to a client, sell something to, or land a job with.

In these situations, it’s not about giving or receiving anything. The first time you meet someone, you only have three things to do. If you accomplish all three, that’s a successful first meeting.

  1. Establish authenticity
  2. Form a connection
  3. Build trust

People can spot a fake a mile away, so be yourself; authenticity is part of leading both people, and a fulfilling life. On that point, life is all about making meaningful connections, so listen to what people are saying, and find common ground with them. Finally, if someone doesn’t trust you, you can forget any kind of relationship you hope to build with them.

Authenticity, connection, trust. Three things. Forget value props, buzzwords, or flattery. Trust me.

STRATEGIC THINKING IS A SKILL FOR LIFE

“A victorious general enters the battlefield having already ensured victory. A defeated general enters the battlefield, and then looks for ways to be victorious” – Master Tzu

The Art of War” is a must-read for anyone hoping to cultivate strategic thinking, and the above passage is particularly relevant.

The victorious general is victorious because they designed the battlefield for success.

Ask yourself, before any meeting, event, or date, how much time did you spend preparing your battlefield? Do you know what you want out of this interaction? What you want other people to take away from it?

Have you done your homework? Did you LinkedIn stalk the people you’re about to have a business meeting with (you better believe they stalked you)? Do you know your date’s favourite kind of food, or are you gonna get to that seafood place and realise they don’t really “do” fish? Have you figured out where the café you’re meeting the Deloitte recruiter is, or will you be running embarrassingly late?

If you don’t have a crystal clear intention of what you’re going to get out of an interaction, and you haven’t done your homework, you’ve failed to design the battlefield for success. You've already been defeated. You’re entering the battlefield, and then looking for ways to win.

Take the time to set a goal, do your homework, and design every interaction for success.

If you let a person talk long enough, you'll hear their true intentions. Listen twice, speak once” – Tupac Shakur

EXECUTION TRUMPS STRATEGY

“But you just said strategic thinking is important?” I hear you say. Yes, it’s important to think strategically- but strategic thinking isn’t strategy. If you spend all your time on crafting strategiesrather than actuallydoing a thing, you’ll get nowhere fast. It’s the difference between someone that talks the talk, and someone that walks the walk.

How does this apply to you? Well, pick a thing you want to do, say learn to ride a bike. You could read every book ever written on how to ride a bike, study the physics behind it, and make a detailed plan. But what happens when you get on a bike for the first time?

You fall. If you had spent all those hours practising rather than reading about it, you’d probably be able to ride a bike by now. Instead, learn enough about the thing so that you’re not disadvantaged, actually do the thing, and then think about what you can change for next time.

In short, Probe, Execute, and Review. Be the person that gets shit done, not the one that talks about getting shit done.

THE AMOUNT OF COOL SHIT PEOPLE ARE DOING IN AUCKLAND

By far the most surprising thing I found about Auckland was the size of the community around social enterprise and innovation. There’s a wealth of good work going on, and I was humbled and honoured by the organisations that took time out of their days to meet with me.

Inspiring Stories introduced me to the amazing world of Festival for the Future; a chance for all young New Zealanders to shape the country’s future over a weekend. Natalie blew me away with her exit from finance, and entry into a grassroots approach to accelerating startups which she started in her Mum’s Garage. It was great fun to meet with the gang from HappyNZ, and see how they’re changing the kindness game in Auckland and beyond.

The teams at the Lightning Lab and The Distiller are giving startups the support and experience they need to grow and flourish in such a competitive industry. Make, Give, Live are reaching those who need it most, with their very human take on the one-for one model, while ImpactNPO run hackathons for non-profits.

Auckland does so many things right in this sector, and to have had the opportunity to meet such amazing people was a real privilege. I left every meeting with a grin on my face, eager to discover the spectacular work which the five other organisations I had just been recommended were doing. 

GO WIDE

Imagine you’ve just launched your awesome new tech start-up. You reach out to all the big names in the game; Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft. You send off four emails, and call it a day. Great job, pat on the back, beers all round.

You don’t hear anything back for a week. Two weeks. “B-b-but my mum says I’m cool?”

What you didn’t realise is that it takes a shit tonne of bait before someone bites. How about all those other places you didn’t email? How are they going to find out about you? Did you reach out to papers, magazines, TV or radio networks? How about academic publications, universities, schools, think-tanks, government bodies? OK, well, there’s other startups, accelerators, co-working spaces, Meetup groups, trade shows, Facebook famous people, NGOs, NFPs, the list goes on.

The narrower you focus, the slighter your chance of success. So do yourself a favour, and go wide. It’s not like you’re writing a hundred individual letters by hand, with a quill and an inkwell; it’s an email.

Go. Wide. You literally have nothing to lose.

PLACING EMOTIONAL VALUE ON ENCOUNTERS ACTUALLY HURTS YOU

How many times have you walked away from a meeting, date, or interview and thought to yourself “That was so good!”? How many times have you thought “Wow, it didn’t feel like they wanted to be there”?

By labelling encounters “good” or “bad”, or letting the emotions of others influence you, you’ve made the encounter subjective, and obscured the outcome.

It might have felt like it was a “bad” meeting, and that they didn’t “like” you; but, actually, they were super busy, and still made time to meet you; listened to what you had to say, despite how nervous you were; and connected you with another two organisations that are more aligned to what you’re doing than they are.

Remove the emotional value, and the meeting was objectively valuable. It was a learning experience, you established a connection with the organisation, and on top of that, they actually made you another two connections you wouldn’t otherwise have. Crazy, right? You can stop beating yourself up about all those interviews and “bad” dates now.

LISTEN TWICE, SPEAK ONCE

“If you let a person talk long enough, you'll hear their true intentions. Listen twice, speak once” – Tupac Shakur

Do you place more value in the words of someone who constantly rants without thinking, or someone who speaks only when they have something to say? If you can distinguish yourself as a genuine listener, even if what you say isn’t ground-breaking, by virtue of being measured in your speech, people will listen. 

Remember, when meeting new people, you want to establish authenticity, connection, and trust. What better way to do that then taking in what they have to say, and offering them something meaningful in return?

So, there you have it; just a couple of things I learned from my ten day intensive. It was a steep learning curve, and a real slice. I'm endlessly grateful to everyone who took the time to meet with me, and for the support of the Cause Corps team in Sydney and Auckland.


Phillip has an undying love for willow trees, and desperately wants to spend a night with the ghost of Emily Brontë. A recent USYD grad, when he's not buried in a book, barbell, or yoga mat, you'll find him making friends with stranger's animals, travelling, or trying to convince people astrology is a thing.
Phillip Kapeleris